Russia targets Paris Olympics with deepfake Tom Cruise video

Russia is targeting the Paris Olympics with a disinformation campaign that includes deploying a deepfake Tom Cruise to narrate a documentary criticising the organisation behind the games, according to a new report from Microsoft.

Microsoft said a network of Russia-affiliated groups are running “malign influence campaigns” against France, Emmanuel Macron, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the Paris Games with the event less than 80 days away. Russia has been banned from the 2024 Olympics, although a small number of Russian athletes may compete as neutrals.

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The fake Cruise video, which appeared on the Telegram messaging platform last year, is called Olympics Has Fallen and uses artificial intelligence-generated audio of the film star’s voice to present a “strange, meandering script” disparaging the IOC. The documentary, whose title riffs on the Gerard Butler action film Olympus Has Fallen, also claims falsely to have been produced by Netflix and is promoted with bogus five-star reviews from the New York Times and the BBC.

“The video … clearly signalled the content’s creators committed considerable time to the project and demonstrated more skill than most influence campaigns we observe,” said Microsoft’s threat analysis center, in a report published on Monday.

The video was made by a Kremlin-linked group called Storm-1679, which has in the past deceived US actors including Elijah Wood into recording messages on Cameo, a website where people can pay celebrities for personalised video messages, which were then turned into anti-Ukrainian propaganda.

Storm-1679’s Olympics campaign over the past year includes a collection of videos spreading fears of violence during the games, which run from 26 July to 11 August. The group has published spoof broadcast news reports that Parisians are buying property insurance in anticipation of terror attacks and that a quarter of tickets have been returned due to terror fears. Both clips impersonated well-known broadcasters Euro News and France24.

Social media accounts linked to Storm-1679 have shown images claiming to represent graffiti in Paris threatening violence to Israelis attending the games. Several of the images also referenced the attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics by Palestinian terrorists in which 11 members of the Israeli Olympics team died.

“Microsoft did not observe any independent confirmation that the graffiti physically exists, suggesting the images were likely digitally generated,” said the report.

Russia has a long tradition of seeking to undercut the games, said the tech firm, including when the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 event in Los Angeles and distributed divisive leaflets to Olympic committees in countries including Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and South Korea.

Another Russian group, known as Storm-1099 or “Doppelganger”, has set up fake French-language news sites making claims of corruption at the IOC and potential violence in Paris. Mock versions of the Le Parisien and Le Point outlets also present Macron as a political figure indifferent to the hardship faced by French citizens.

Microsoft said it expected Russian efforts to expand to other languages and attempt to flood social media via automated accounts, while the use of generative AI – systems that produce highly convincing text, video, image and audio – is also likely to increase.

Last month, Microsoft issued a report documenting similar Chinese attempts to interfere in elections in South Korea, India and the US using AI-generated material to deliver false information. The country’s propaganda apparatus often uses fake news anchors to purvey disinformation.

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